Is human existence a progressive unfolding of a predetermined pattern of actions and inactions? In other words, does spirit control people like a robot? Are Christians compliant to Christ-like freedom or robot-similar determinism? Answering these questions launches one into investigating the delicate balance between fate and freedom central to questions of ethics, civics and metaphysics. It delves into an adequate understanding of human identity, involving anthropology and theology. In other words, it opens the whole spectrum of man to a vista of understanding within the context of his fatal orientation. Therefore, it speaks to freedom and determinism and places them adequately relative to man. As such, in responding to the questions: Is man free or determined? Is he depraved or deprived? It addresses the possibility of our participation in our salvation.
Did God create us into the likeness of His Son’s freedom of the will or image of Divine robots in God-ordained determinism? The question of freedom and determinism has been a perennial issue in the history of thought, leading to exaggerating one over the other. It is not uncommon to behold people who, to safeguard God’s sovereignty and gratuitousness of salvation, attenuate freedom of the will, thus inadvertently deleting responsibility. The denial or reduction of the role of liberty of the will destroys the basis for morality and ethics and, by implication, frees one from any personal responsibility for his or her actions and delinks human actions from merit or blame. In other words, acts that deny freedom of the will rob the subject of full dignity as a child of God and degenerates to robot-similar determinism. In reality, man’s material and spiritual dimensions are well integrated that he is the subject of his actions and take blame or praise for them.
Unfortunately, the intersection of Calvinist theology and responsibility-dodging culture has planted seeds of confusion in appreciating proper Christian anthropology. Thusly, it distorted the theology of man’s salvation and wrongly considered man totally depraved. This responsibility-dodging culture manifests itself in outsourcing responsibility for human faults to spirits. Generally, the spirit of lies, the spirit of pride, the spirit of fornication, the spirit of this and the spirit of that are blamed for bad behaviours. Without denying the role of principalities in human sin, regrettably, many ignorant preachers reinforce the wrong attribution of human faults to spirits. This wrong attribution of faults removes responsibility from humans, implying that no one is praise or blameworthy. In reality, virtues and vices are functions of the will in the use of freedom.
But this human will can be affected by habit – a pattern of choices. In fact, habits are second nature – vices or virtues can become so indigenised that we perform them with facility. Through repeated acts, they become character and condition life. Hence, vices blamed on spirits are vices not rooted out at their incipient moments that they became part of the subject’s nature. One of the reasons to appreciate the impact of habits is the recognition that phenotype impacts one’s actions profoundly as much as genotype. The environmentthe moral ecosystem can be so charged with a particular texture of life that it becomes a great force pulling one to its execution. The combination of genotype and phenotype can have a compelling influence.
Yet, sin is not in the DNA. The phenotypic influence can be so gripping that one feels incapable of breaking the shackles, and consequently, surrender and blame spirits rather than resorting to behavioural change that involves discipline and discipleship. Assuredly, formation breaks the yoke because since everyone possesses reason and freedom, all have a real possibility of positive change, transformation, and salvation. The Scriptures are replete with passages that accentuate either predestination or responding to salvation in freedom. Unfortunately, these passages have either been read in opposition to or in forgetfulness of their counterparts. But these passages should be properly read as a unit within the context of the whole message of the Bible.
This has characterized the Church’s reading of the Bible from the earliest antiquity, where the Fathers employed the hermeneutics of faith and unity. Hence, predestination stands in concord with freedom. God’s salvation is not an arbitrary exercise in which He chose people randomly to be saved while others to be damned. Rather, He predestined before the foundation of the world to save whomsoever that freely responds in faith. As such, predestination is in intercourse with freedom. God’s omnipotence grants man the freedom to work out his salvation cautiously, knowing that he can lose his predestination. Again, the point is that God’s foreknowledge (cf. Rom. 8:28-29) does not imply fore-ordination. A Christian is never starved of grace to overcome a challenge. In the interplay of predestination and freedom, man retains the possibility of choice, the power to revise or to rewrite his autobiography.
There exists a real capacity to relate with his Creator; he possesses a real possibility of demonstrating the divine quality as a creature by progressively growing in grace. Without this possibility, no one can really do anything relative to eternal destiny, making righteous living a scam. But because of the possibility, one can grow in or lose salvation. It all depends on the use of freedom, which is not a fantasy but a real quality God offers man. The true elect, predestined and chosen, are those who, in their use of freedom, chose rightly and persevered in their choices through grace (cf. Rom 1:16). God, who wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Tim 2:4), who does not want anyone to be lost (cf. 2 Peter 3:9) and who does not want the death of evil people but rather that they repent and live (cf. Ezekiel 18:23), is unlikely to predestine someone for destruction.
God’s foreknowledge is quite different from God’s predetermination, which justifiably obviates every responsibility. That the Lord so loved the world that WHOMSOEVER believed will be saved (cf. Jn. 3:16) puts the accent on the free choice. Hence, the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15) emphasizes this point of choosing rightly. These passages will make no meaning if predestination is understood as God arbitrarily choosing those to be saved, in which case whatever they do adds no value since their salvation is irreversible. That God foreknew that whoever succumbs to the allurement of sin and fails to use freedom well will be damned does not approximate being predestined for destruction. Our salvation is by God’s grace, but its subjective appropriation is a function of free choice. Hence, in this vanishingly little time on earth, humans are responsible for their good or bad actions and should not blame anonymous spirits as the culprits.
• Fr. George Adimike is of the Archdiocese of Onitsha ([email protected] gmail.com)